Five Strategies for Coping with Teen Behavior

As the mom of two wonderful daughters I have to say I am overjoyed at the lovely, caring people they are becoming. As they now enter the teen years I also have to stand back and come to grips with what every parent at this stage has to come to grips with…they are growing up.

Of course we all know this means changes and struggles and all kinds of new and interesting moods and behaviors. Interestingly, I have quickly learned this is not what makes the pre-teen and the teen years difficult. This is a continual issue that parents face from the time they have a baby…or a two year old…or a kindergartener….it is always about how we feel about what our kids are going through and how we react to what they go through that makes things easier or harder. That is the real secret I believe….not turning on our kids when they frustrate us or disappoint us and at the same time not taking it personally. It is the ultimate balancing act. It is the real solution to healthy parenting and the greatest tool to navigate the frightening and in some cases, dangerous waters to come.

In researching what works best I have found five tips to keep in mind…or pasted on the wall if that works well…when things get ‘interesting’ with our kids.

1. Freeze. This is something most of us learn in grade school. When the bell rings, freeze. It prevents additional chaos and gives everyone a chance to refocus on what needs to done next.

2. Look for Direction. Taking your cues from your child is really crucial in determining what to do when difficult issues arise. Ironically it isn’t that different than parenting a 1 or a 3 year old…are they hungry, tired, upset, frustrated, overstimulated? Before you react you need to consider what is really happening and why it is happening before you take one step to react.

3. Express Concern. Regardless of what our kids do and what we may need to do to address their behavior, it is always most important at this moment to reinforce our concern for them rather than our disapproval of them or what they may have done. It creates a bridge for ongoing communication and leaves the door open to talk about what is really going on with your child. Ideally the first words out of your mouth at this point might be something like, “you seem really unhappy” rather than “I am really unhappy with you.”

4. Defer the Punishment. Our initial instinct will often be to move into a punishment mode. However this may not be the best course. It might be wiser to let your child know that you are going to think about the situation and once you two have spoken calmly you will then decide what needs to be done to correct or deal with the behavior. This is different than dealing with small children where the discipline needs to be more immediate. As kids get older they need time to really think about what has occurred and so do parents. The issues are usually more involved then when they were young and need more consideration before discipline can be an effective tool.

5. Work as a Team. Involve your child in deciding what the punishment should be. As kids grow up they are naturally going to rebel. Parents need to strike a balance between maintaining a strong parental authority and placing more emphasis on self accountability. Including your child in deciding what the punishment should be shows respect for their feelings and ideas and helps you gauge where they are in terms of truly being responsible and accountable when they make a poor choice.

I have always believed people do better when you believe the best of them rather than the worst. I have learned this firsthand just recently in the most amazing ways. While we certainly do not want to be in denial or be too relaxed about how we approach new behaviors and poor choices, I am certain that both objectives can be achieved all at the same time. Great parents can be caring and compassionate, and strong and firm all at the same time. Of course, it is the ultimate balancing act….but one of greatest achievements when it is done well.

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